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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Taranaki AMC Day 3 - Waiaua Gorge Hut to Lake Dive Hut

The sky was still very cloudy, with clouds enveloping Taranaki when I woke. I would have to take the low level track to Lake Dive Hut. The track was supposed to be very muddy, so I wasn't particularly looking forward to it.

I packed and cleaned the hut slowly, hoping the clouds would part, and allow me to take the high route, but despite the cloud base lifting a little once or twice, the clouds remained.

I set out, and immediately, the track plunged over the edge of the gorge, descending the cliff with some metal ladders. Decending down a steep slope to the river, I then forded it (only ankle deep), and continued very steeply up the other side.
After following the track along the edge of the gorge, I came to the junction of the high level "Brames Falls" track, and the low level "Taungatara" track. I turned right onto the Taungatara track, and started following it.
I quickly noticed that the condition of the track was much worse than the previous tracks. It was worse in the sense that it was quite overgrown in places, and several times I had to stop, and look around, to figure out where the trail went.
As on the previous day, I found that the track contoured the mountain, and was a series of short flat sections, between creeks with extremely steep banks. The mud however, seemed to be missing - I was expecting something like southwest Tasmaniam but there was only a few mud holes, only two of which were over ankle deep.
After about three hours of going up and down over creeks, on the Taungatara track, I came to a fairly big creek, which I crossed, then decided to have lunch at, since the rocks on the bank were the only dry spots to sit that I'd seen in ages.
After lunch, I discovered that the junction with the Lake Dive trak was only metres from where I had lunch. In terms of being overgrown, the Lake Dive trakc was even worse than the Taungatara track, and I was almost continuously pushing through and past shrubs.
The Lake Dive track followed a gorge up the mountain, and about half way along it, I met a group of 8-10 people from the New Plymouth Tramping Club - the first people I'd seen in a day and a half.
Soon I cfame to Lake Dive - a small lake on the side of the mountain - and then the hut. Again I was the only person there. I went to wash the mud from my boots, and as I returned, the rain started, and it continued into the night. All three huts have had rudimentary dog kennels out the back - apparently for DOC hunters who bring tracking dogs.
I relaxed, ate dinner, and went to bed early


Monday, February 28, 2005

Taranaki AMC Day 4 - Lake Dive Hut to Matakawa Hut

The clouds were low around the mountain again this morning, but as I packed and cleaned slowly, the odd patch of blue sky appeared, however the clouds wouldn't release their grip on the mountain. I decided to take the low route to Dawson Falls.
Yet again the track traversed over many steep sided creeks, but this time, the condition of the track was quite good. After a few hours of walkiking, getting wet from wet plants, I came out at Dawson Falls. It was quite windy and spotting rain as I arrived, so I went to the Tea Room there, and bought a pie (pretty good for a hike!).
As I ate the rest of my lunch, I could see that the cloud level was now quite high - near the summit, and was breaking up. I decided to try the high level track. I first walked down the hill to see Dawson Falls, which were not terribly exciting, then followed the Ridge Track up to Stratford? Plateau. There was a carpark for the ski field, and an average lookout. From the Plateau, I could see that the high route was clear of cloud, and could even occasionally see the summit.
I walked up the ski field road, to the flying fox (chairlift) across Manganui Gorge. The gorge is apparently quite dangerous due to avalanches and rock falls. I quickly walked the track traversing the gorge, and came to the small ski field. The track from the ski field wound in and out of several gullies, slowly ascending in alpine tussock grass. The views of the plains from this sectio nwere outstanding.
After a while I came to the private Tahurangi Lodge, and a big radio tower. At this point I turned off toward Matekawa Hut, and descended the 4WD track known as "The Puffer", which was partly concreted.
From the radio tower, I could see Matekawa hut, and all the way down The Puffer, but it took about 45 minutes to reach it, the last part on a foot track.
Matekawa Hut sits right on the edge of yet another gorge, with spectacular views of the plains from the veranda, as well as views of the mountain. I soon discovered that the hut had a few problems - there were two rats running around in the roof (which I saw in the skylight), the broom was broken, so the floor was quite dirty, the hut ticket box was full, and the toilet was full. Yet again I was alone in the hut.
Despite the rats, I managed to get to sleep easily, having set my alarm for 6:30am to try for the summit.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Taranaki AMC Day 5 - Matekawa Hut to Summit to North Egmont

I woke at 6:55am, almost half an hour after my alarm, so I packed really quickly. Since the broom was broken, I couldn't sweep the floor, which speeded things up as well.
By 7:25am, I set out up the foot track toward the 4WD track. When I reached the 4WD track, I dumped my sleeping gear, tent, and cooking gear in a garbage bag under some bushes.
Continuing on, up "The Puffer", I eventually reached the radio tower, and Tahurangi Lodge after just under and hour. After getting breakfast out of my pack (bread & and apple), I continued upward. From Tahurangi Lodge, the track became a foot track, and I went up many sets of stairs which climbed a steep rocky gully. At the top of the valley, the track dissappeared as I hit the scree.
There were marks where other people had climbed through the scree, and the occasional snowpole. The summit now looked very near, and the views were excellent.
The scree was composed of volcanic ash (like grey sand), and small rocks up to about 5cm across. It was very hard climbing through the scree, as taking two steps up resulted in sliding back a step. The scree was at an angle which must have been around 45 degrees, and as I climbed, it seemed to get even steeper.
After quite a while struggling through the scree, I finally made it to "The Lizard", which is an old solidified lava flow. It was a welcome change after the scree, as there were now solid rocks to hang onto. The scree was not entirely gone however, as the solid rock mostly had a thin coating.
The summit seamed very near (as it had for quite a while) and I continued slowly up the Lizard, very often having to use my hands to climb the rocks which were at a very steep angle. I found I was going much slower than I had been, and was having to take quite a few short breaks. I think the altitude was affecting me, as I was puffing hard even with little exertion, and felt slightly short of breath.
Finally I made it to the top of the Lizard, and the route became less steep, and almost immediately led onto the crater glacier. I found that Taranaki has two main spire shaped peaks, with a saddle of glacier between them, filling the crater. The glacier had a hard ice crust with slightly softer snow underneath.
I walked up to the middle of the glacier, kicking my boots into the surface, so I wouldn't slip on the ice. I couldn't see where others had gone up to the summit on the snow, so I picked the easiest looking route, and once off the ice, scrambled up the rock/scree spire of the summit.
As I crested the summit, I was rewarded with a truely mind blowing vista. The surrounding land, and even the clouds where far far below, giving the impression of riding in an aircraft. The national park seemed tiny, with a patchwork of farm fields stretching into the distance. On the western side, the Tasman reached to the horizon. To the east, the peak of Ruepehu hwas clearly visible, sticking up above the clouds, and to the south, the south island could be seen stretching away to the horizon. Far below on the flank of the mountain, the gorges I'd crossed were visible.
The wind on the very top was strong, and freezing, making photography somewhat difficult. The south side of virtually every rock had a buildup of very clear ice rime, in interesting shapes.
I sat at the summit, in the shelter of some rocks for about an hour, taking in the amazing view, eating, and trying to stay warm.
As I was there, the clouds slowly increased, and one cloud seemed to get stuck on the mountain, well below the summit, but over the route down.
Eventually, I started heading down. The Lizard was still difficult, but not tiring. As I came off the Lizard, I entered the cloud.
The scree was amazingly easy to descend, taking big sliding steps, except where it became very shallow over firm rocks, where it was like trying to walk on ball bearings.
At the top, there had been a few other people, and I saw many more as I descended, but one person who was near me during the descent, had become separated from his companion in the cloud. Near the bottom of the scree, however, we both found ourselves off the main track, despite having followed the snow poles. After consulting my map, then seeing some other people in the distance, we found the track about 100m to the right. Apparently there were a couple of extra snow poles leading off the main route, which we had both followed.
Back on the main route, the other man found his companion, and I continued down again at a quick pace. The climb had taken me about 3 hours, 30 minutes, but the descent was much faster - I probably cut an hour or more off. The 4WD track was again jarring to walk down, and once I'd reached the spot where I stashed my gear, it was even more jarring with the heavier pack.
I continued down the 4WD track to North Egmont. It wsa gravel, but quite steep, and hard, which made it difficult walking since I had a full pack, and tired legs. Eventually, the track ended at "The Camphouse" hut, and I walked down to the visitors centre, where I bought some hot food, then waited for the bus. I guess you could say that I'd completed a "Grand Slam" of Taranaki - a circuit and summit.
The shuttle bus (van) arrived, and soon I was back in New Plymouth. First on the agenda was a hot shower, then I used the free (extremely slow) internet at the hostel, bought dinner, and went to bed.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

New Plymouth to Taurangi

Yesterday, I'd booked a bus to Taurangi, and so I rose early this morning, packed, then bought some food at the supermarket across the road. At 7:30, when reception opened, I checked out, then walked down to the bus station with all my gear.
I had been expecting a bus going northeast - more or less direct, but discovered that my bus was the one to Wellington, and I would change at Bulls to go north to Taurangi. The bus left at 8:10, and for the first hour or so, there were great views of Taranaki, as we drove around it. After a short stop, we passed over the Whanganui river, and continued southeast. For some of this time, the coast was next to the road. The farming countryside continued to Bulls, where I changed busses.
Driving north now, we were soon paralleling the main rail line, and the Rangatiki river, which had many areas of soil cliffs lining it's banks. We stopped for another break at a place rather confusingly called "Flat Hills". Still heading north on route one, we drove through a military training area, then the Rangipo Desert, and came to Ruepehu.
The area between the road and Ruepehu looked almost like unkempt pasture, with just tussock, and occasional very low shrubs. This was the Rangipo desert.
Ruepehu was a very impressive sight, with many ridgelines extending away from it, and around the top, a crown of snowy glaciers.
Annoyingly, three sets of high voltage power stauntions run between the road and Ruepehu for much of this section. Soon Ngaruhoe came into view - a black, perfectly cone shaped volcano. Mt Tongariro was also visible, but was much less defined - looking much like an ordinary mountain range.
Soon after this, we came into Taurangi, where I got off the bus. I discovered that Taurangi is a very small town - not much more than a village.
I walked down to "Club Habitat" and got a dorm bed. When I went to the room, it was rediculously small - an old tiny motel room converted to have two double bunks squeezed in. Fortunately I was the only one in the room, as even one more would have been a squeeze.
I wandered around town for a while, and noticed that there were a fair number of young Maori around, as well as several service shop fronts for things like the Maori Land Court.
I went back to the hostel, cleaned and organised my gear, and tried to completely dry the inside of my boots. I watched a little TV, then for dinner, I went to the local pub, which had an attached pizza kitchen and bought an enormous pizza and a beer.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Tongariro Northern Circuit Day 1 - Whakapapa to Mangatepopo Hut

Rising and packing at a leisurely pace, I stashed most of my gear with reception, and went to the information centre. I bought a map, hut pass, and a shuttle bus seat. The bus left at 3:15pm for Whakapapa (Wh is pronounced as f for everything except Whanganui, so Whakapapa sounds rather rude), which is the usual start and end of the Tongariro Northern Circuit. I then used the internet to update my website for quite a while, before deciding to investigate the Tongariro River.
I walked down to the bridge on the main highway. The river was flowing fast over its stoney bed. There were two or three fishermen on the downstream side. A walking track followed the bank on both sides of the river. I started following the side opposite Taurangi.
To say that the river is not a wilderness experience is an understatement (at least around Taurangi). The river was surrounded by a mix of pine forest, massive tangles of blackberries, and other weeds and natives. The river bank on the outside of bends was often a low soil cliff, from which trees had fallen in places. The track followed the river, but mostly had no views of it at all. Occasionally a side track led through blackberries to the river. For part of the track, the noise of the highway drowned outh the river.
After about 45 minutes, I came to a large swing bridge back to the Taurangi side of the river, which I crossed, and then walked along streets back to the town centre. After buying lunch at a bakery/cafe, I went to the supermarket to get hiking food.
Back at the hostel, I waited till reception re-opened at 3pm, then grabbed my pack,and walked down to the bus terminal. I waited a while, then boarded the bus,when it was brought out of the yard.
Driving to Whakapapa, the clouds became thicker, obscuring the mountains. We entered the national park, and the area on the left of the road (the national park side) became an alpine grassland, with many streams crosing it. Most of the streams seemed to have a fair bit of pampas grass growing, especially near the road. It started raining, then, at 4:15, we reached Whakapapa.
The Chateau is a huge, grand, and fairly old hotel, that is the first thing you seewhen arriving in the village. The village basically consists of two or three hotels, the visitors centre, and a cafe.
After signing into the walk at the visitors centre, I re-organised my gear into a pack to take and a bag to leave. I walked up to "Skotel" and found I was able to stash my bag in their luggage room.
It was still misting rain as I started the walk. Across the alpine tussock, the trail dipped every so often into creeks which were lined with beech trees. The beech trees had different leaves to the ones I saw in the south island - they were not cerrated and were shaped more like a regular leaf. I quickly found that the track was not like a south island great walk. Especially around the creeks, the track was extremely erroded. Often there was an old path beside the current one, which had become too erroded to use.
After a while, the beech trees dissappeared from the gullies, and left just the alpine grassland. The clouds had closed in so that I could only see a few hundred metres in any direction. When I stopped, the silence was absolute - even my breathing sounded loud.
After about 2 hours, the Mangatepopo hut came into sight, and after a further 15 minutes, I reached it. It was nice to strip off my wet boots and rain gear.
I'd arrived pretty late, so I didn't have ages to talk to the other people between cooking. I was a little surprised when everyone went to bed at 9:00.

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